How not to take a photo: In new book, Alec Soth, Taryn Simon and 200 more share subjects they would never photograph

ByDavid M. Conte

Aug 2, 2021

“Death.” “Dogs.” ” Sunsets “. “The hidden sides of the Moon.” “The distorting objective of the colonial machine”.

Here are some of the entries you will find in Photo no-no, a sort of encyclopedia of all subjects deemed forbidden by more than 200 contemporary photographers, writers and curators. Among the experts who come up with their personal ‘no-no’s’ are well-known contemporary artists such as Sara Cwynar, Roe Ethridge and Taryn Simon.

Sorted alphabetically from “Abandoned Buildings” to “Zoom Screenshots,” the book’s subject list is divided by longer passages from contributors elaborating on a particular subject or theme. For Alec Soth, “Cemeteries” top the list of prohibited subjects; for Lyle Ashton Harris, it is “Landscapes”. Eva O’Leary avoids photographing people from above, especially other women. “This way of seeing is addressed to the male gaze,” she writes.

Published this month by Aperture, the book could have come across as a tedious screed on “good” and “bad” photography. Instead, it ends up being something much more rewarding, a look sometimes amusing, sometimes serious on the way in which contemporary photographers struggle with the baggage of their own medium.

Photo No-Nos: Meditations on what not to photograph (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy of Aperture. “Width =” 680 “height =” 1024 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/07/9781597114998-680×1024.jpeg 680w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/07/9781597114998-199×300.jpeg 199w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/07/9781597114998-33×50 .jpeg 33w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/07/9781597114998.jpeg 898w “sizes =” (max-width: 680px) 100vw, 680px “/>

Photo No-Nos: Meditations on what not to photograph (Aperture, 2021). Courtesy of Aperture.

Jason Fulford, a well-known photographer himself who designed and edited the book, said it was not easy to get photographers to voice their taboos. Upon hearing the prompt for the first time, many responded similarly, “I don’t like to censor myself. So Fulford had to find ways to approach the issue in a more indirect way, asking about “things you used to avoid and don’t do now” or “something someone said you shouldn’t photograph. and with which you do not agree “.

The resulting thoughts range from “Road Signs” to “Innocent White Fantasies” and “My Mom’s Wedding Photos where she cut my dad out of the picture.” “Some people would take it very heavy and some would take it practical,” Fulford explained.

(The designer didn’t include his own list in the book. If he had, he said, it would have gone something like this: “Shrub,” “Cheerleaders,” “Tarps Over Cars,” ” Models. ”)

Alec Soth, Ed Panar, Pittsburgh (2019) from Photo No-Nos: Meditations on What Not to Photograph (Aperture, 2021).  © Alec Soth / Magnum Photo.

Alec Soth, Ed Panar, Pittsburgh (2019) from
Photo No-Nos: Meditations on what not to photograph(Aperture, 2021). © Alec Soth / Magnum Photo.

Fulford pitched his requests to other photographers in the summer of 2020, and it’s easy to tell. Many passages refer to the confined conditions of containment; others are considering the ethics of protest photography amid the 2020 wave of protests.

On this last point, Stephanie Syjuco says that she does not take pictures of people’s faces during demonstrations: “Even if we think that a political situation does not involve anyone in a certain way, I do not trust that the images will not be militarized later, ”she wrote.

Olu Oguibe, for his part, would never modify a protest photo to hide the face of a walker: “Does a photographer have the right, regardless of the obligation, to erase the identity of a subject? without that person’s approval?

This kind of difference of opinion is everywhere in Photo no-no. Time and time again, the snapshot of one image maker is the crowning glory of another. At the end, Photo no-no is more of an invitation to the reader to think about what is precious to him, rather than a list of advice to follow.

William Wegman, <i>Mondo Bizarro</i> (2015) from <i>Photo No-Nos: Meditations on What Not to Photograph</i> (Aperture, 2021).  © William Wegman. “Width =” 288 “height =” 384 “srcset =” https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/07/PNN_103_thumbnail_20150226_0554.jpeg 288w, https: //news.artnet .com / app / news-upload / 2021/07 / PNN_103_thumbnail_20150226_0554-225×300.jpeg 225w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/07/PNN_103_thumbnail_20150226_0554-38×50.jpeg 38w “sizes =” (max-width: 288px) 100vw, 288px “/></p>
<p class=William Wegman, Mondo Bizarro (2015) from
Photo No-Nos: Meditations on what not to photograph(Aperture, 2021). © Guillaume
Wegman.

Perhaps the entry in the book that best illustrates this comes from Aperture’s own editor-in-chief Denise Wolff, who worked with Fulford to put it together. She remembers an unfortunate list of “things that should never be photographed” once pasted on a busy wall in the publishing house’s headquarters.

“As more photographers came in, the list seemed too sarcastic and contemptuous,” Wolff writes. “Added caveats: things that should (Almost) Never be photographed More then Unless you can do it really, really well and after that, or otherwise. After a few days, we took it apart.

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